Pioneers, Recovery and Gentrification

Recovery on Caroline started soon after the riots. From 1972 through the end of the decade at least fourteen of the 24 houses changed hands, many passing through the hands of investors. (Pope Realty of DC owned 1515, 1519, 1520 and 1523 in 1974.) All were soon occupied by new owners. Some of the houses were cosmetically fixed up (paint, new carpets) before sale, others not. Some of the new owners quickly gutted and rebuilt, while others simply moved in. Two young architects (graduates of Syracuse University) ended up as neighbors, providing very different models of what could be done with our simple houses.

A similar situation happened on the 15th and T Street sides of the square, with for example several of the T Street houses owned by one New York investor by the early 1970s.

Of the buyers of the 1970s, only one or two remember knowing that there was a proposal for a freeway that would have demolished every structure in Square 190. But we were certainly impressed by the prices. One T street house in livable condition sold for $32,000 in 1973. And a Caroline house in sound shape sold for $28,000 in 1975, to be painted, given new carpets, and resold for $48,000 in 1976.

The new arrivals were predominantly white, all fairly young and just starting their careers. Most were couples. Few if any had children when they purchased, but some babies soon appeared. (One was named Caroline, for the street.) The new were welcomed by the old. A cohesive community developed, where practically everyone knew everyone else. In 1979 (100 years after the original building permit) the block organized an association which continues to this day.

Recovery to the east and west took longer. Neither area had been completely abandoned, with institutions like the Congressional Women's Club remaining. The Freedom Baptist Church moved to 1519 U (previously the home of the Isle of Patmos Baptist church, now located at Rhode Island and 12th Street NE) in 1968 where it continues to flourish and provide fine choral music.[1] A Masonic lodge continued operating in the 1400 block of U until the 1990s.

But the drug market and prostitution continued to be a problem through the 1970s and into the 1980s. As the drug market started to be pushed out by new residents, another disruption in the form of the Metro appeared. U Street from 14th to 11th was a construction zone for years in the late 1980s. Many of the businesses on U Street between 14th and 12th were driven out of business.

Redevelopment of this area got its real start with the opening of the U Street-Cardozo Metro Station on 11 May 1991. Development continues today. The supply of vacant land is dropping rapidly; the Ellington Apartments (open summer 2004 in the 1300 block of U) took the last large parcel. The Lincoln Theater was refurbished and is again a center for community and cultural activities. The Bohemian Caverns club further east was rescued from demolition and returned to life as a club. And many other clubs, restaurants, theaters and shops have appeared along U and down 14th.

Back on the west side, things started changing earlier. A commercial strip along 17th between P and R had begun attracting restaurants. A luncheonette named "Trio" was opened in 1939 in what had been a pharmacy. (The pharmacy had moved to another building on the site where the CVS now stands.) In 1950 Peter Mallios and his wife Helen bought the Trio, and maintained the name. The operation expanded north (the Fox and Hounds) in 1967, and east (Trio Pizza and Sandwich Shop) in 1973. (Sadly, the Trio Pizza and Sandwich closed in 2004). Peter and Helen's son George is now the active owner/manager of the three businesses.[2]

In the 1960s the increasing restaurant and bar scene became a center for the gay community that was increasingly coming out - which in turn fostered further development in the bar and restaurant scene. Many of those attracted to the area bought and preserved or improved houses. And as the area improved, it drew interest from others.

In recent years, property values have gone through the roof. In February 2005, 1512 sold for $820,000 without ever being marketed. This is an extended house, redone by an architect and requring no work to move in. In September 2005, 1504 was sold for $560,000 and was immediately gutted. Across the alley, in December 2001, 1908 15th street house sold for $540,000. Sixteen months later, in April 2003, 1910 15th Street, of identical size and perhaps slightly inferior in the quality of interior finish, sold for $670,000. In October 2005 1529 T Street (same size as the 15th Street houses) was listed for $1,250,000.

[1]Freedom Baptist Church members

[2]History from George Mallios

Last update 21 October 2005

Copyright Richard Busch, 1993, 2004-5
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